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One of the surprise TV hits of the summer has been FX’s dark comedy The Bear, set in a struggling Chicago family restaurant beset with chaos, dysfunction, baggage, and drama. The show is an ode to work: the feel of walking into the kitchen on too little sleep, the staccato ring of a sharp knife prepping vegetables, the deep umami smell of a tended sauté pan, the gorgeous sheen of carefully frosted cakes, and the taste of a pile of family meal spaghetti. But it’s also an ode to dysfunction: fights between cousins and siblings, tragic suicides, drug abuse as a coping method, screaming at coworkers and friends, self sabotage and the sabotage of fellow chefs, or violent altercations in the workplace. The US economy and financial markets have been through a period of enormous dysfunction: manic highs in 2021 as policy stimulus and a surge in retail risk taking eventually gave way to a brutal bear market that has covered at least the first half of 2022, while the economy has bounced-back admirably from the COVID shock despite ongoing conflicts over labor supply, supply chain performance, geopolitical shocks to commodity markets, and the presence of the FOMC ever-ready to snuff out the expansion. Like The Bear’s protagonist, Carmine Berzatto, the FOMC has been tasked with keeping a fundamentally unstable situation on an even keel. Instead of struggling to pay vendors, re-organize the staff, optimize the menu, and manage utter chaos on an interpersonal level, the FOMC has had to balance strong growth in aggregate demand, high inflation, a large balance sheet, and supply-side disruptions. In The Bear, Carmine’s journey is both helped and hindered by his new hire Sydney, a woman hired to help manage the kitchen and re-orient strategy. In 2022, Sydney is playing the role of a Congress that has both helped ward off the worst outcomes (economic collapse) but hasn’t moved as fast or been as nimble as the protagonist ultimately needs. Despite being on its own learning curve, this week, Congress passed a taxation and spending bill that will boost investment in decarbonized energy, following passage last week of a bill that will generate significant semiconductors capex. The deeply divided Congress isn’t always working in perfect sync with the Fed, but the chaotic relationship ultimately does more harm than good for both. Ultimately, the FOMC is just as human in its foibles as Carmine Berzatto in The Bear: the central dramatic suspense of the show (whether Berzatto will close the restaurant…no spoilers from us!) is equally present in the question of whether the FOMC will halt what could be an unprecedented inflationary boom in favor of ‘closing the joint down’. Only time will tell, with investors left to guess just as viewers were whether the enigmatic protagonist will persevere or take the easy route out with predictable—if dysfunctional—results. We discuss all of the aspects of The “Bear-zatto” market and much more in this week’s Bespoke Report.
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